You Shouldn’t Say These Things to Someone Who is Autistic
Since being diagnosed as autistic, my life has definitely changed. Not to a dramatic extent but I can definitely see noticeable changes around me and within me. One thing which has been a challenge to say the least is telling people about my diagnosis. There’s been a lot of mixed reactions and while some people have been really supportive, some people have said things which aren’t really the best thing to say to an autistic person. Sure, it may not have meant to come across as offensive, but it wasn’t the nicest thing to hear. I’ve not had much support to come to terms with the diagnosis or learn more about my disability, so I’ve discovered a community online full of autistic advocates who are there to help people learn and understand more about autism. So when I came across this video by a lovely autistic advocate named Amethyst, it inspired me to write a blog post on along the same lines from my own experience in hopes that I can help people and educate them on what not to say to autistic people.
“You don’t look autistic/I never would have guessed you were autistic!”
You might mean this as a compliment and not at all in a malicious way, but what it translates as is “You’ve just broken these preconceptions I had of autistic people, which is really interesting” when in reality; each autistic person is individual. It’s an invisible illness, there’s no visible trait of being autistic and we don’t all act the same. Autism is a spectrum and nobody truly fits into the stereotypical mould of being autistic. People often take the typical traits of an autistic male as a stereotype but autism tends to impact females differently. A lot of people also try their best to try and pass as neurotypical as a form of survival, usually because they have been judged or bullied for being their authentic selves.
“Do you really need a label? Like you’re still the same person as you were before being diagnosed as autistic”
For myself — and many others who are autistic — having a label helps me. All my life I was different to other people and I never understood why. Having my diagnosis allows me to understand why I am different and reassures me that it’s perfectly okay to not fit in with neurotypical people around me. It helps me understand why certain things impact me and why I may take in information differently and think differently. It is who I am and that diagnosis helps me understand myself rather than being left out in the cold, wondering why I can’t truly relate to my peers, my family and my friends.
“Oh, you must be high functioning/not low functioning”
The labels “high functioning” and “low functioning” can tend to be harmful towards autistic people. Saying to someone that they are high functioning in order to disregard an autistic person’s own life experience is quite demeaning.
“Don’t you mean you have Asperger’s?”
Aspergers is no longer an actual diagnosis term used anymore as the introduction of DSM-V concludes that people with Asperger’s are autistic and are on the autistic spectrum.
“Don’t you mean you are a person WITH autism?”
The majority of autistic people – including myself and my cousin – prefer to identify first over person-first language. This is also common with other disabilities. Autistic people can choose to identify how they feel most comfortable; be it “autistic”, “a person with autism”, “an aspie” or whatever term they find fits them best and nobody has the right in trying to “correct” them.
“You aren’t actually disabled though, right?”
In short; autism is a disability. It is an invisible disability and so regardless of whether or not a person looks disabled, if they are autistic then they have a disability. Insisting an autistic person isn’t disabled erases the struggles of being autistic and disabled.
“I think we’re all a little bit autistic”
Not everyone is a little bit autistic. Everyone who is on the autistic spectrum is autistic. This is insulting as it disregards the difficulties of getting through life as an autistic person in a non-autistic world. Symptoms are clinically significant for a reason.
“Autism is highly over-diagnosed these days”
Attempting to tell people this or that they are just a quirky character is demeaning. Autistic people know how their brain works and themselves better than you do. You don’t truly understand them because you are not them. You do not have the right to tell someone they are not autistic — or anyone with a disability that they don’t have it, for that matter. You should by no means attempt to downplay their disability.
“How are you treating your autism?”
Here’s a quick fact for you: autism cannot be treated. Autism is something that is developed before a person is even born. There are different things which can help a person on the autism spectrum and make life easier, but there is no actual “cure”. Instead of trying to “cure” autistic people, we should be celebrating the diversity and differences. People tend to see autism as a tragedy, but autism is a way of being and is not possible to separate the person from autism.
“Stop rocking/flapping your hands/fidgeting”
These motions are called “stimming” (short for self-stimulatory behaviour) and is something an autistic person just needs to do. The vast majority of us have been bullied or judged because of this. If we are stimming, it’s to help deal with situations such as sensory overload, anxiety or stress. It is a natural way for us to express ourselves. Pointing this out to us or asking us not to do it is embarrassing and makes us feel as that we are not free to stim in public when we need to. It is also an forcing an abled person ideology of normal communication and expression onto autistic people.
“But people with autism can’t have feelings/emotions/empathy”
I can tell you this for free; I can feel emotions and empathy. In fact, I believe people who are autistic can feel even more than neurotypical people. I think this is such a stereotype which is forced upon people, I was even made to believe that by teachers in school when I was growing up, which is why I never thought for a second I could be autistic. Yes, there are some people who do struggle with empathy and emotions, but not everyone. It’s more so of the case of trying to read other people’s emotions.
“I know this person with autism, but it’s more severe than yours”
Just because autism is more apparent in some people than others, doesn’t mean it’s not there. A lot of people are good at passing as neurotypical and females in particular are great at mimicking actions of other people which may be why they not seem “obviously autistic”. Remember, you are not this person and you’re not with them 24/7. Masking or “passing” as someone who doesn’t have autism is very common, typically due to facing judgement for being able to truly be ourselves.
“I know someone who is autistic! *Lists a bunch of stereotypes*”
Guess what? Knowing someone who is autistic doesn’t mean you are an expert. Trying to “lecture” us and ignoring us as an individual isn’t helping. Try listening to us instead and get a better understanding on how being autistic impacts us personally, because everyone is different.
“I’m sorry that you have autism”
Umm, why? Don’t be sorry; autism is just a different way we experience and view the world. Sure, sometimes we go through things that aren’t pleasant, but so does everyone. Don’t pity us, we don’t want that.
“Look at me in the eye when I’m talking to you”
Umm, no. Making eye contact for many of us is extremely difficult. It’s stressful, overwhelming and sometimes it even causes a burning sensation, of course depending on the individual. Studies have shown that not making eye contact is a way to decrease an unpleasant excessive arousal which stems from overactivation in a specific part of the brain. For me, maintaining eye contact — particularly with strangers or people I don’t really know — makes me feel sick and anxious. I try my best to do it because I have been repeatedly told when I was in school how important it is to make eye contact with communicating with people and that it’s rude not to. We shouldn’t be expecting autistic people to make eye contact because it can really impact us. We’re not trying to be rude.
“You must be really good at mathematics and academics!”
I’m about to really break this stereotype; I had a G in maths. I am absolutely terrible. If I do a simple sum, it’s guaranteed my mother or a friend will have to check over it! I also have dyscalculia (like a numeral dyslexia) so no, I’m not a maths whizz. In fact, while some autistic people thrive in academics, not all of us do. I certainly didn’t. I was good for my class, but I was certainly no genius and after my anxiety taking over, my GCSE results weren’t great. I also used to find it very difficult to concentrate in class and my mind would phase out. I still get like that when trying to concentrate.
“Were you vaccinated as a child?”
Vaccinations. Do. Not. Cause. Autism. There. Is. Proof. Autism is developed BEFORE You are even born. I didn’t suddenly turn autistic one day because my parents decided to get me vaccinated. By the way, not vaccinating your child because “it can cause autism” is a ridiculous excuse! Being autistic isn’t so horrific that you should put your child or yourself at danger from life threatening diseases. This topic really bugs me (as it does with the vast majority of autistic people) and I try and stay away from the “ongoing debate” but if someone asks me this, I do get frustrated and try to explain.
“But you have a relationship/degree/job?”
Autistic people can in fact achieve all of the above. This typical remark makes out that autistic people are limited in their abilities and choices. True, not everyone with autism goes onto higher education or gets a job or gets married, it’s highly narrow-minded to assume that no autistic person is capable of achieving these things.
“What is it like to have autism?”
This is such an off-putting question. Imagine being asked what it’s like to be a certain race or other marginalised group. You wouldn’t put them on the spot, so don’t do it to autistic people, either.
“So does that mean you are *R-Word*?”
I don’t like this word because it’s very offensive and is an ableist slur, so I refuse to put it on my blog. But no, We need to eliminate this word from English language altogether because it serves no purpose but as a slur and insult and it’s disgusting. It is now outdated and very hurtful. Also, more than half of people with autism have an average or above average IQ. People with intellectual disabilities are just as valuable and worthy of love as everyone else but it’s just plain false to say autism equalates to intellectual disability.
I hope this post is helpful! Have you ever experienced someone saying any of the above? For my fellow autistics, is there anything else that should be added to this list?
Jazz is a Disney, tea and pop culture enthusiast with a passion for blogging. Also a proud introvert.